The new rules of social etiquette for the new normal

Alice Hall
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Freedom is nigh. That is, access to hairdressers and high street shops is round the corner and we can now socialise in groups of six in the garden.

So far, so good. Until you realise the new normal brings with it an unfamiliar set of social rules to grapple with. How do we greet our hairdressers? Are your barbecue guests allowed to use the loo? There’s much to think about, but we’ve got you covered.

Here’s how to...

 

Say hello

Back in the old normal, as it shall now be named, handshakes and hugs were customary. Now, extending a palm is near criminal. 

But we’ve dearly missed our hairdressers (and our friends, of course, but our hairdressers most of all), so let’s look to royal protocol for inspiration.

From waves to curtseys, the monarchy has a long list of socially distanced greetings that are perfect for these Covid times. If you're feeling flamboyant, try a bow on entry to the salon; for a more cordial approach, a head nod will suffice.

For those after a more gender neutral greeting, the 'namaste' pose could be a good option. First demonstrated by Prince Charles at an awards ceremony in March, the greeting involves a small head bow with the hands clasped together in a prayer-like position - not dissimilar from the way your son greeted you when he returned from his gap year in the Himalayas. Polite and fuss free, it's a perfect way to say a warm hello while avoiding those pesky aerosol droplets. 

 

Choose the right face mask

Before lockdown, we made statements through things such as our haircuts, choice of nail varnish, or a new outfit. Now, the government has added face coverings into the mix, too.

With smiles off limits, your choice of PPE speaks a thousand words. If you want to go proud and display your national interests, follow the lead of Nigel Farage, who was recently seen sporting a Union Jack print. Fancy yourself as a sultry member of the Beckham clan? Opt for a streamline black covering to convey your sombre demeanour.

Or, try the ‘man of the people’ approach’ as demonstrated by Prince Harry, who donned a blue snood as PPE while strolling through an LA boulevard. 

 

Attend a Zoom wedding 

Think striking the balance of enough booze to get you dancing, but not so much you mess up your speech was hard in pre-Covid times? Try doing it virtually. 

It's important to remember that webcams lack the social safety provided by a church pew and eight rows of rented hats; if it's switched on, there will be no way of hiding any signs of drunkenness, fatigue or envy. A tipple or two to toast is fine, but be wary of anything more than two glasses of Prosecco; throughout lockdown, we’ve discovered video chats have a way of making us feel a little bit paranoid.

For etiquette expert Grant Harrold, the key to a successful Zoom ceremony is enforcing traditional dress codes. “If you attend a Zoom wedding, it’s important you follow the same rules; dress up in a hat and tails and keep very quiet. At the end of the wedding, the bride and groom may want to interact with people, so be ready for that too," he said.

 

Pass time in a queue

It's safe to say that us Britons are professional queuers. A study by researchers at University College London in 2017 found that people will wait for an average of six minutes in a queue before giving up in frustration. Given the masses set to be descending on Waitrose ahead of barbecue season, middle-class shoppers must brace themselves for longer waits. And what better way to pass the time than a chin-wag in the hummus aisle?

Wrong. Uncomfortable, taboo and congestion-causing, talking to people in the queue is a 'new normal' no-go. Opt for a thrifty smile and nod instead, the sort you'd save for a colleague on your return from the water cooler.

Other things which are frowned upon in the 'new queue' include; sneezing, judging people's baskets, complaining, sighing and flirting.

People queue at a McDonald's drive thru in Dunstable after lockdown restrictions are eased - REUTERS

 

Decline a bubble invite

Those who dreamed up the idea of the social bubble clearly had no consideration for the chaos which would ensure. With our social lives already hindered by the lockdown, ending up in the wrong group of six could be detrimental. But how do we politely decline an invitation? 

For those we aren’t that close to, such as Martha from university whose hen-do you attended, a white lie is perfectly acceptable: "My bubble is full; blame the in-laws". For closer friends, it's more tricky. In a time when not very much is happening, shared WhatsApp groups and neighbourly gossip means you will get found out quicker than Neil Ferguson. “If you decline to be in someone’s social bubble, you run the risk of not being included in anyone's social group,” says Mr Harrold. “If an offer comes along, and it’s people you feel comfortable with, you’ve got to accept it.”

He advises that it can be helpful to think of the social bubble as an official contract; sign up, try it out, and leave if it’s not working for you. Indeed, this was exactly the case for the Sussexes, who “stepped down” after realising life as senior royals wasn't quite how they imagined. Moving to LA to be part of a more glamorous bubble is optional, of course. 

 

Turn down ‘socially distanced’ park drinks

Ah, parks. Once the stomping ground of weathered dog walkers, in the new normal they have become the epicentre of the middle-class social scene. Prosecco fuelled picnics have replaced the weekly girls' drinks at Polpo, while, with no sports day to attend, pushy parents have taken their rounders rehearsals to the village green instead. But for all their good intentions, one can’t help but feel a little apprehensive - or even down right bored - at the thought of another afternoon spent clutching a plastic cup of lukewarm Sauvignon.

The etiquette for turning down park drinks is tricky, because you probably have nowhere better to be. The most polite option is to arrive at the drinks as late as you possibly can, as per Dominic Cummings' entry into the rose garden, meaning you should only have to spend a maximum of half an hour bearing the social situation.

It is important you remain absolutely unapologetic for your tardiness to avoid any inference of guilt. Unlike the eager-eyed viewers of the press briefing, your friends will be too intoxicated to notice.

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Ask someone entering your house to wear a mask 

Deep in the depths of lockdown, our homes were sanctuaries. Now, ten weeks in, the cracks - and the dust - are beginning to show. Whether your breaking point came with an emergency midnight call to your cleaner, or the moment you realised the May heat-wave had parched your lawn beyond repair, external help is required in the new normal, and fast.

How do you approach the delicate topic of asking someone to wear a mask upon entry? The key here is to treat a stranger's mask application in the same way you would request shoe removal. Perhaps it will take the form of a snazzy new doormat - even if it means becoming that person who has a 'keep calm and put your mask on’ slogan in your home. If you're the Labrador-on-the-bed and wellies in the kitchen type - those who wouldn’t dream of requiring shoe removal on entry - try hanging them on the dog lead rack by the door as a gentle means of encouragement.